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Weather Conditions Improve for Mudslide Search, but Contaminants Remain

Thirty people are still unaccounted for, but crews are anticipating easier conditions Monday after a very wet weekend.

Crews digging through the site of the mudslide in Washington expected some much-needed relief from rain on Monday, though treacherous conditions continue to hamper search efforts, officials said.

Snohomish County remained under a flash-flood watch until Monday evening, according to the National Weather Service, but the downpours that turned the debris field even muddier over the weekend would subside on Monday, according to

“And that is actually good news for our crews who have been working in extremely wet weather conditions the last few days,” Jason Biermann, program manager at the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management, said Sunday night.

A service road was also cleared for responders to move personnel, food and equipment across the expanse of the 300-acre search area, the Snohomish County government said in a statement.

Crews still have to contend with contaminants such as household chemicals, sewage, propane tanks and electrical transformers, said Dick Walker, a senior official with the state Department of Ecology’s spill response team.

When rescuers and dogs leave the site, they are hosed down by hazardous materials crews, according to the Snohomish County Government.

"We're worried about dysentery, we're worried about tetanus," Lt. Richard Burke of the Bellevue Fire Department, an on-site spokesman, told The Associated Press. "The last thing we want to do is take any of these contaminants out of here and take them into town," Burke said.

“We are doing air monitoring for flammable vapors and VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) to keep workers safe,” Walker told NBC News. Walker said contaminated areas were being marked and avoided, but the main focus for everybody on site is the search effort.

The death toll reached 21 on Sunday, and four additional bodies had been found, but not added in that count since they had not been confirmed by the medical examiner’s office, Biermann said. Thirty people were still unaccounted for, Biermann said Sunday night.

— Elisha Fieldstadt

Search and rescue teams navigate the wet, muddy terrain at the west side of the mudslide on Highway 530 near mile marker 37 on Sunday, March 30, 2014, in Arlington, Wash.Rick Wilking / AP